Martin Peak: Alpine Jenga

Martin and Holden Lake from Bonanza
Rock? Petrified wood? Regular wood?

The reputation of this peak is both hilarious and accurate. It’s a chossy heap of shit. Martin will erode into nothing millions of years before the rest of the cascades. A single small quake will send it crumbling into the valley while Bonanza looms 1000ft taller, unscathed. A climbing party will remove the wrong fist-sized rock from their scramble route, and half the mountain will collapse. It’s alpine Jenga.

There’s a route in there somewhere

Okay, now that I’ve set your expectations extra low, here’s why it’s still worth doing: I swear, that between most of those gullies trying to skid you off into the future, there are some lines of decent rock, and it’s not unmanageable. At least on the way up. It’s not the west side of Gilbert with the miracle streak of conglomerate and death runout everywhere else, it’s more forgiving than that. The fact that we got 5 people up and down without incident speaks for itself.

  • Distance: 2mi from camp to summit (okay obviously my math sucks because gpx track had us at 25 miles for the whole holden/bonanza/martin/holden trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 2,100ft gain to summit (8,511ft highest point)
  • Weather: 70’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 8hrs bc ferry
  • Did I Trip: Technically no, but plenty of other mechanical stumbles
  • GPX track here
Rob’s expression matches my thoughts

We left camp at 6:15am, ready for a more casual day than Bonanza the day prior. We followed a vague bootpath on and off up and over two small humps until we were at the saddle just west of Martin. We traversed a tiny bit east before finding a gully to head up. There were multiple options. I’m still not sure which is the “correct” one. They all had 3rd class ish steps towards the beginning, none were 100% walk up. And honestly, the 3rd class ish steps were the most solid parts. Because the walk up sections were previews of what was to come. Extremely loose dinner plate talus and steep awkward sidehilling. If you managed to go straight up you’d randomly slide back a few steps.

“Alright now that’s enough of that”

We crested the west ridge after fighting ungracefully through some stubby trees, and were able to walk maybe 1000 horizontal feet before traversing east again around 7,500ft. The view of Bonanza is spectacular, you can really see just how large the Mary Green glacier is and how daunting the summit looks from afar. Crazy to think there’s a manageable way up that.

From here, it’s a project of scrambling over ridges and aretes and connecting shitty gullies when they become really too shitty to climb. If the gully is seriously bad, there is probably a ridge or some cleaner line you’re missing, or it’s time to traverse to the next gully. Treat it like a scavenger hunt, it’ll go. If you are lucky, you’ll see a cairn, but there’s only like 5 on the entire mountain and if you build one, it’ll probably fall over in five minutes anyway. Climbing Martin is like a 12 step program, but it’s OGAT: one gully at a time.

Finding veins of solid rock

When truly on the ridge (or even the aretes between gullies), the scrambling was solid. When in gullies, it was loose and tedious and sometimes just nasty, but more often than not we found clean lines on the way up. But sometimes things would look solid, and then break off if you tugged or knocked on them even slightly. Some blocks that looked embedded you could actually remove and then put back exactly where they came from, like 3d puzzle pieces. Totally bizarre.

There was one section where I realized we were on exposed, thin ledges that just felt like they’d crumble at any point. No jugs, nothing solid. It was probably the fastest I scrambled all trip, and the only section on the way up where I had an “oh, whoa” moment. The rock was red, then white, and then we were above it, and I noticed rap tat right at the top which was great because I knew I wouldn’t be stoked on downclimbing that. Turns out we had overshot the “first crux” per summitpost, which is just to climber’s left of the white and red gully. But it wasn’t so bad, at least on the way up. And above that gully, we found solid clean rock on the ridge (exposed, but fun), and then it was back to crossing yet another gully.

The red/white gully. Rob is on the airy narrow ledge section, Mike’s just below it.
Solid ridge scrambling

The second crux went smoothly on the way up. It was exposed, but had solid rock compared to the rest of the peak, and a few very fun moves. Beyond that, nothing dramatic between there and the summit. I’m sure Rob was singing the final countdown. You know what else distracts from shitty choss? That diarrhea song (you know, “diarrhea [fart] [fart]”), which SOMEONE started singing as talus and scree and debris crumbled below our boots, a fitting theme for Martin’s quality of rock.

The summit is big, and we took a looooong break with snacks and naps and pics. My favorite signature in the summit register was Dick Hertz (ha) with the SKt (Slowest Known Time instead of FKT, fastest known time) with 80hrs round trip from Holden and 2 bivvies. We’ll never know their real name, or what actually happened, but it sure gave me a laugh. I bet it’s some animal who did this in like 7hrs from Holden and just has a good sense of humor.

Summit shot!

I was anxious about the downclimb as usual, but I had bomb ass shoes and the way up had been fine and I was confident in the group to help me through whatever might get in my head. I made sure I was neither first nor last. It means someone’s below me if I need someone to talk me through some moves, and someone’s above me to distract me if I just need to recalibrate my brain. Put more simply: I won’t be left alone! Turns out I enjoy climbing a LOT more when in a crew. Rob being the mountain goat he is downclimbed first. I followed. The crux was a great combination of fun and electric. I grabbed pics I didn’t think to get on the way up (probably too busy studying moves/getting hyped). We kicked tons of rocks down on the way back to the white slabby gully, including one where we might as well have glissaded talus. We went one at a time, very slowly, and eventually stopped even shouting rock because there was no avoiding it and everyone knew.

Downclimbing a crux

A rocky outcropping splits the white/red gully (skiier’s left) from a grassy gully (skiier’s right) that looked doable. We gazed down each side of the outcropping. We scoped out the grassy gully. I did my usual I’d prefer to rappel, but if you downclimb, I’ll follow.. except no one wanted to downclimb. And we had carried the rope all the way up here (by we I mean Alex thanks Alex) so why not put it to use? We set up one of the most beautiful rappels I’ve seen (scenerywise, though I assure you our rope management was impeccable as well) and rapped as far down as we could get. “Take a picture of me rapping, for my dating profile.” Damn straight!

Rob was the first one on rappel, and he cleaned the rap for us, pulling pieces of loose rock and flakes off of the rock wall. One of the flakes was HUGE. It had been a while and we were starting to wonder if he was okay when we heard a huge crack followed by rockfall followed by Rob explaining what was going on. And when I rapped down, I could see the huge scar left behind the flake that he had pulled off. Great call, would NOT have wanted that coming down on any of us.

Mike admires the views by the crux

At the base of the rap we kicked more rocks down traversing to skiier’s right to get out of the line of fire from any other debris the rap might pull down, and then it was back to awkward sidehilling, ball bearings on solid rock, stringing more gullies together and tagging the ridgeline between gullies. The five cairns helped, plus some recognizable rocks. Once we were back on the mellow end of the ridge, we cruised to the very end and took the last gully on skiier’s left to get back down to the saddle. This went fine, but still had a 3rd class ish move towards the bottom. Not a problem, I just expected a walk up gully at that point and we never found one.

Beautiful spot for a rappel. Ridiculous really
Me on a downclimb section*

Getting up and over those two humps back to the saddle above Holden Lake was tough. I was low on water, Mike and I hauled ass back with the others somewhere behind us. My inner juke box was alternating still between the diarrhea song and you are my sunshine, two wildly different tunes. Back at camp, I boiled water to chug before collapsing on my sleeping bag in my tent. I love sitting. Full crew was back at camp by 4pm.

Much better as a rap

Maybe an hour later, there was a sudden commotion around the bathroom area, and we saw a porcupine! I’ve never seen one before! We all gathered around, he didn’t seem to care one bit that he was being watched. The new neighbors joined us for a watch party (they just got back down from Bonanza). Some hiked down to the river for fresh water and a shower, I boiled snow for my final variation on mac n cheese and chugged more mio, content that we only had to hike back to Holden the next day. I groaned as I lay down in my tent. Someone laughed, I think it was Tim. “You know what that sound is? That’s the sound of a 70 year old. Or a climber.”

In the middle of the night, I was woken up by sniffling outside. I always thought I could just kick/punch an animal through my tent if it sniffed too close, but I didn’t want to blindly smack a porcupine, right? So I sat there panicking. I’m so blind without glasses/contacts in. I debated between fight or flight. What does flight even mean when you’re in a tent? It kept sniffling. Mike’s light in the tent next to me turned on. Okay, he knows too. Reinforcements. I unzipped the door and peeked outside. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m fucking blind. Well whatever it was took off, and sounded like it tripped over one of the tent lines. I shone my light around a bit more but didn’t see anything. Must have been a deer.**

Mike on the west ridge in front of Bonanza

The hike back to Holden was quick, about 2.5 hours. Including Mike and I thinking one of our party members was missing on the far side of Holden Lake. We literally jogged back there to find him, shouting his name, and it turned out he had at some point passed us and was ahead of us on the trail back to Holden! We passed another party on the trail that mentioned him and said he was totally okay, confirming what everyone else had thought. Oops.


PSA: there is no $1 ice cream at Holden in the morning, don’t get your hopes up. We kicked around the bus stop until the bus showed up, munching on whatever snacks we had left, wandering the center of the village where we were allowed. It was our driver’s first time driving the bus in a year, and it was an old school manual transmission school bus that had to go through these crazy gravel mountain road switchbacks with no protection. She crushed it though, while I panicked in the seat and didn’t look out the window. Apparently my heart rate was so high that my Whoop picked it up as a bona fide cardio activity for 30min! I can’t be positive, but the time of the activity line up with the pics I took, so… yikes.

Back at Lucerne landing, we unloaded our gear and immediately jumped in the lake. BLISS. Sheer bliss. It was cold and refreshing and clear and amazing. We sunned on the dock until the ferry got close and I figured I shouldn’t be lying around in my underwear as a boat of presumably very polite proper religious tourists rolled up. But yuck, putting on climbing pants was gross. At least I had a fresh shirt.

Rock our neighbors found on Bonanza, way cooler than the quartz I found

The ferry ride back was uneventful besides a cool waterfall we pulled up to. The views were still spectacular, though I wish I could have had my overheated beaten body towed behind the boat on a rope so I could just sit in the ice water (I know that’s not as pleasant as i made it sound, I’d be more like a drowning rock being skipped than a pleasantly dragged passenger).

The other highlight of the day? Besides jumping in the lake? Mike’s girlfriend meeting us at the North Bend Park n Ride with pizza and HOMEMADE MINT BROWNIES. I don’t know how she did them, but holy shit, that was the most delicious return to civilization I’ve ever had. The pizza even became a joke on the ride home. Shroedinger’s pizza. Was it happening? Was it not happening? Dare I even ask? Don’t let those hopes get up. I expected nothing. And boom. Pizza and brownies. I’ve only met her once and I felt like Doug in Up. “I just met you but I LOVE you.”

Chilling at thte Holden bus stop

I drove home, unleashed a forest of pine needles in the bathroom, threw all my clothes in the washing machine and threw away all the trash I had accumulated. I had found socks and a shirt on Martin, I almost had a full Martin outfit. My bed was almost too soft compared to the past few nights on the ground, and I was not looking forward to being back to work the next morning. I liked my alternate alpine life better.

Once again, super strong team, great collaboration and communication, and I seriously hope I get to go on some big trips with them again. At some point on this trip multiple people were rapidfire giving advice to someone. “Put your hand in” “no put it here” “no take it out” “okay put your foot in” and whoever we were talking to finally said “okay but when do i do the hokey pokey and turn myself around?” which of course triggered full group laughter. I’m very lucky to be included with this crew!

Our humble abodes below Bonanza

*those dents in my helmet aren’t all from Martin
**a person definitely tripped over those tent lines at some point too but I don’t remember who. Oops

2 thoughts on “Martin Peak: Alpine Jenga

  1. I had forgotten how much I enjoy your trip reports! As for this one, I think you have convinced me to pass it up. 🙂


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